Updated: Jun 14, 2021
As the Covid restrictions within England eased, I joined three friends for a cycling trip starting in the ancient city of York. It’s an ideal jumping off point as it’s just two hours by train from London and gives access to wonderfully varied scenery.
Ordnance Survey map and rough plot of our 300km, 5 day journey.
Our route took us east through the quiet and little known area of the Yorkshire wolds. Here, the chalk terrain is cut by dry, glaciated valleys like huge wrinkles on the surface of the earth. It’s farming territory, with sheep, potatoes and grain. We also encountered a huge field of broad beans which gave off a strong scent, something between lavender and pine disinfectant to my nose!
From there we crossed through the wolds, stopping to visit the deserted medieval village of Wharram Percy and Wharram nature reserve, a former quarry which is home to Dingy Skipper butterflies.
Our second day took us on mainly gentle, quiet roads to the coast at Scarborough. This famous seaside resort has elegant cliff-top hotels, wide beaches and a large castle. After a pleasant stay at a seafront hotel, we headed north along the old railway towards Whitby. The railway track makes relatively easy work of a long uphill climb.
We stopped at Hayburn Wyke where a small double waterfall tumbles onto a secluded beach. Then we pressed on to Ravenscar, a town laid out by a property developer with a broad, grand main street. But the dream of a bustling resort remained just that, a dream, as few of the plots of land were ever built on.
Near Whitby we turned west into the beautiful Esk Valley and then climbed up onto the moorland above. The scenery here is dramatically different. The hills are brown, purple and yellow with heather and gorse. Roads, houses and people are few. It is a quiet world away from the green valley below.
After a night at the Fox and Hounds in Ainthorpe, we continued west through green dales to Great Ayton and then south once more into the moors. In contrast to the chaffinches and small birds we saw in the dales, here we heard the burbling calls of the curlews and the warning cries of lapwings. Our destination for the day was Easterside Farm near the small village of Hawnby, set on the boundary between moors and dales. There are thousands of sheep here. Lambs with black and white socks gambolled everywhere.
The last day of our tour of wolds and dales took us down the steep slope of Sutton Bank into the Vale of York. Just in the lee of the hills lies Byland Abbey. Founded in the twelfth century, it had a magnificent church whose ruins are still impressive today.
Five days and 300km after setting out, we’d had plenty of exercise and fresh air, experienced dramatically varying scenery and enjoyed a variety of hospitable places to stay and eat. Some of the cycling isn’t for the faint-hearted, with muddy tracks and some steep hills, but the rewards of a trip around the wolds, dales and moors are well worth the effort.
Next up, the Belper before heading to the South Coast, as far south as you can go without leaving this island...